HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) — In a new development, the Harlingen Police Department has identified a person of interest in the killing of 19-year-old Nahomi Rodriguez, a woman who was last seen alive six years ago while working an overnight shift at McDonald’s.

Det. Joel Yanes with the Harlingen Police Department spoke exclusively with ValleyCentral on Thursday, announcing that investigators believe they have made a significant development in the case.

“What I would like to announce today… We believe we have identified the vehicle that was seen in that video at the [McDonald’s] drive-thru, and we have a person of interest identified in the case as well,” Yanes said.

The detective told ValleyCentral that authorities are working with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office to “build up the case to, hopefully, present it for indictment.” Police spoke with the man previously, the detective said, but he was not considered a person of interest until the past year.

Charges have not been filed and the identity of the person of interest has not been made public, nor is he in custody, Yanes said.

Nahomi Rodriguez was reported missing on July 17, 2016. On April 6, 2017, nearly a year later, a farmer discovered her remains in an irrigation ditch outside of rural Rio Hondo and alerted authorities.

A look back

Rodriguez went to work at the McDonald’s on Business 77 and Morgan Boulevard in Harlingen on July 16, 2016, working overnight into the following day.

During her shift, she left at approximately 2 a.m. in a small light-colored SUV. This was the last time she was seen alive.

Surveillance footage at the drive-thru window captured an interaction between her and a man in an SUV earlier during her shift. She handed the man a drink and then fist-bumped him, Yanes said.

Police believe that this was the same SUV she was last seen entering.

ValleyCentral’s Adam Cardona spoke with Enedina Sanchez, Naomi Rodriguez’s aunt, who said they looked tirelessly for the teen for many months she was missing.

“We went through many, many weeks of sleepless nights,” Sanchez said. “Countless hours searching the fields, searching the streets, searching trash cans, searching every old building we could think of. Every single car that looked like the suspect’s car, we would follow it to make sure she wasn’t in there.”

On April 6, 2017, a farmer discovered Rodriguez’s remains in a rural area, in a canal bank next to a field. Yanes said her remains were not found buried, but “dredging up the canal.”

Yanes told ValleyCentral that a forensic exam was conducted on her remains, but authorities are not able to disclose a potential cause of death as the investigation remains ongoing.

The investigation

(Harlingen Police Department)

The detective said the latest development was a result of tips from the community, and through the police’s investigation.

“Since the day this happened, the community has responded very well, by calling in over all these years,” Yanes said. “The information, or what the community believes to be information or tips, have been provided pretty constantly.”

The investigation consisted of forensic exams, court orders for phone records and search warrants, but Yanes said that most of the work has been through the interviewing process.

“I would say the majority of the work that has been a lot of actually going around knocking on doors and talking to people,” he said.

Yanes said that by speaking with family and friends, they were able to learn what kind of person Rodriguez was.

“She was a sweet girl,” he said. “She was basically working a job that she could just to help sustain herself, you know. She wasn’t a troublemaker or problem kid or nothing like that.”

Sanchez described Rodriguez in a similar fashion.

“She was very outgoing,” Sanchez said. “She was a hard worker. She had up to two jobs, going to school. She was determined to go somewhere with her life.”

Although the case remains unsolved six years later, police do not consider it a cold case.

“There hasn’t been a period of inactivity on this because there has constant feedback from the community,” Yanes said.

(‘Justice for Nahomi Rodriguez’ Facebook page)

“For the community I would say it appears that the Nahomi Rodriguez case has never settled down, it’s always been fresh in their mind,” he said.

The Harlingen Police Department and the Texas Rangers have led the investigation, with assistance from the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office. As the case remains active, those with information are asked to contact authorites.

“Even though we feel absolutely confident that we have identified the suspect, and identified the vehicle, I would still urge the community to come forward with any information they may know,” Yanes said.

Sanchez said she feels the investigation is nearing an end, but she still asks for the community’s assistance.

“Please, if you know the truth, share it so we can finalize this nightmare,” Sanchez said. “We want it to end, to give her the peace that she needs.”

To reach the Harlingen Crime Stoppers, call (956) 425-TIPS (8477).